Will the Apple Watch make you more productive? We spent a month finding out.

Since the release of the Apple Watch last month, there’s been a lot of debate about its potential to revolutionize the way we work. Today, it’s still unclear what Apple’s “most personal device yet” will mean for our personal productivity.

Will it allow us to streamline our workflow and control how we consume information, or will it be a Pandora’s box of digital distraction? What can we get out of the Watch that we can’t already do on our iPhones? Ultimately, will the Watch help us get more of our meaningful work done?

As a company that makes personal productivity software, these questions were top of mind when we sat down to design Todoist for a 38mm screen that would be kept not in pockets, backpacks, and bedside tables, but on our users’ wrists. We wanted to find out all of the unique ways the Watch could possibly help people achieve their most important goals.

Five members of our team took on the challenge to experiment and optimize our wearable experience to help us get things done. We spent the past month finding out what works on the Apple Watch and what definitely does not.

Bottom line: Does the Apple Watch have one “killer” app that will be a silver bullet for your productivity? In our opinion, not quite yet. But we did find that, when used properly, it’s unique features can be used to help build the daily habits that form the foundation for creativity, focus, motivation, energy, and quality work.

Our team has identified six key productivity habits that the Apple Watch helped us fortify, in ways that our smartphones couldn’t.  We put together a little infographic to show how each of these habits contributes to our daily productivity– and exactly how we used the Apple Watch to keep us on track.

Like Apple says, the Watch is their most personal product yet. In the end, it’s up to you to tailor it to your daily routines and workflow. We hope this infographic helps give you an idea of the possibilities.

(If you’re interested, you can find a more detailed review of our little self-experiment after the infographic.)

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4 Things the Apple Watch does that the iPhone can’t…

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Don’t get us wrong. We love our iPhones. It was clear from the get-go that the Apple Watch wasn’t going to be replacing them anytime soon. That being said, there are some features of the Apple Watch that the iPhone just can’t match.

Before delving into exactly how we used our Watches to build productive habits, we wanted to list out the key features of the Apple Watch that we found make it a unique and potentially powerful tool for personal productivity:

Haptic reminders

Every good habit needs a trigger, something that nudges you to take the same action over and over again. Yes, we can get notifications on our iPhones, but if our phones aren’t actually in our pockets, we often miss them.  Even when we do see notifications immediately, they are easily ignored when there are so many coming in on our phones throughout the day.

We found that, if used selectively, the gentle buzzes the Apple Watch gives for notifications were much more effective at reminding us of the actions we wanted to take multiple times a day, like taking breaks or meditating. The reminders really do feel more personal on the Watch and were much more likely to get us to take an action than the same type of notification on our phones.

Immediacy of action

In well-designed apps, the Apple Watch virtually eliminates the time between wanting to take an action and actually being able to take action.  Of course, it only takes about 20 seconds to fish your phone out of your pocket or backpack and unlock it, but we found the immediacy of the Apple Watch actually made a big difference when we were trying to form consistent habits. We’ll come back to how this played out in specific contexts later on, but suffice it to say that being able to immediately take action was a vital feature for us in terms of productivity.

Immediacy of feedback

Positive rewards are essential to building a strong habit.  Research has also shown that taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate small wins helps to build momentum and maintain consistent motivation toward bigger goals.

This is one area of productivity that we think the Watch excels in. Many of its apps are designed with bite-sized visualizations of daily or weekly progress toward your goals that can be displayed to you at intervals throughout the day. This not only kept our daily goals top-of-mind, but also gave us a sense of progress that motivated us to keep taking action.

Limited functionality

There’s a lot you can’t do on a screen as small as the Apple Watch’s. We actually found that to be one of the Watch’s greatest strengths. We’ve all had the experience of unlocking our iPhones to check the weather or answer just one email, only to get sucked into a blackhole of digital distraction.  As wonderful as our iPhones can be, we don’t want all of their tempting distractions strapped to our wrists.

Again, with well-designed apps, the Apple Watch is perfect for short, to-the-point interactions that allow you to get back to what you were doing before as quickly as possible. Even if we wanted to do more, it’s pretty annoying to hold up your arm to check your Watch for more than a minute.

The data-backed findings for using the Apple Watch for optimal productivity

Throughout the past month, we’ve found several ways that these four unique features above come together to help us make consistent (or at least more consistent) positive changes in our daily routines.

1) Regular exercise.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that regular exercise isn’t just important for your physical health. Exercise also releases a chemical cocktail in the brain that produces a multitude of mental and emotional benefits including improved memory, concentration, learning, energy, mood, and creativity.

The best part is, you don’t have to be a marathon runner or commit to hours-long sessions in the gym to reap the productivity benefits of exercise.  Boosts in mood and productivity occur after just 20 minutes of moving around.

And yet on the whole, we find it harder and harder to fit those 20 minutes of movement into our daily routine. More and more of our days are spent sitting at desks in front of computers.

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How the Apple Watch helped…
During our first month with our Watches, we found that we actually did exercise on more days throughout the week. We were also more conscious of how we incorporated movement into our daily routines, even on days when we didn’t do a full workout.

The native Activity app automatically tracks your movement in the background. It then displays your progress towards your Exercise goals as a ring. The more you move, the faster your ring gets completed.  That’s all great, but the most important feature of the app in terms of habit-building is the haptic reminders. You can set the app to send notifications that tell you how you’re doing so far.  We all had the experience of receiving a gentle tap on the wrist late in the day telling us that we were falling short on our Exercise goal. We were genuinely surprised how effective at getting us to get up and at least go for a brisk short walk. Seeing the ring get completed for the day was one of those small wins that motivated us to keep our daily streak going.

If you find that social motivation works best for you, Human is a fantastic app that does pretty much the same thing as the native Activity app, only with a social twist. You can add friends and family and see their real-time activity progress on your wrist. Those of us who use Human found ourselves checking in with our “Clubs” much more often on the Watch than we did on our phones. The combination of social solidarity, public shaming, and good, old-fashioned competition was, more often than not, enough to get us up and moving toward our goals.

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Another one of our go-to apps for exercise was Misfit Minute. The Misfit Apple Watch app is basically a tiny little fitness coach on your wrist. You tell it how much time you have (1, 4, or 7 minute intervals), and it shows you what exercise you should be doing. Each routine targets a different part of the body. The convenience of getting curated workouts, tailored to even the shortest time frame was huge for eliminating the barriers to incorporating more exercise and movement into our days. The immediacy of the action played a big role in helping us build an exercise habit. As an added bonus, we could keep our hands-free to do the exercise the entire time.

Not all of us loved the bells and whistles of exercise apps. Some just wanted to keep track of the basics. For simply tracking workouts with stats like distance, speed, and calories burned, Map My Run the way to go. It’s a straightforward, focused app that allows you to keep track of your workout as you do it.

2) Take breaks and move around.

The human brain wasn’t meant to focus on tasks for hours on end.  We start out strong, but eventually we become more and more susceptible to distractions and our productivity declines. Luckily, there’s a super simple fix. Take more breaks.

Multiple studies have shown that taking breaks actually improves focus and performance on tasks. Taking the time to step away from our work helps us retain information, make connections, and reevaluate our goals.  It seems counterintuitive at first, but we get more done by taking regular breaks throughout the day.

The problem is that most of us struggle to step away from our desks on a regular basis.  A Staples survey of office workers and managers in the U.S. and Canada found that, though 66% of employees work over 8 hours a day, 25% don’t take any breaks at all other than lunch.

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How the Apple Watch helped…
As a team of remote workers, our jobs are 100% on our computers. Even though we know the research, we still find it very hard to get up and get away from our screens regularly throughout the day.  Even when we do take “breaks” from work, we often spend them in front of our computers which really doesn’t count. If we had to pick one productivity habit that the Watch helped us form the fastest, it would be taking breaks.

In addition to tracking our Exercise goal, the native Activity app keeps track of how long it’s been since you last moved. If you’re stationary for 50 minutes in an hour, the app with tap your wrist and remind you to take a break.

It’s such a simple thing, it’s hard to believe it can really make difference, but from our month with the Watches we can say unequivocally that it does. We were all much more consistent at taking breaks throughout the day with our Watches constantly reminding us to move.  Similar to the Move goal, the app also displays a progress ring for your Stand goals that advances for every hour you get up and move around. Again, this simple visualization of progress allowed us to see our small wins and keep the momentum going to close the ring each day.

The Human app also does a great job of reminding you to get up and move and has the added benefit of allowing you to set specific time intervals.  If you want to take a break every 25 minutes per the Pomodoro productivity technique or every 52 minutes with 17 minute breaks (the optimal work time according to a study done by RescueTime), you can do that.

3) Keep a to-do list.

Keeping reliable to-do list is a must-have for productivity. We’re a team that creates task management software. Of course, we’re going to say that. But we also have the research to back it up.

The Ziegernik Effect is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that describes our mind’s tendency to continue to think about uncompleted tasks until they are finished. You can think of it as our minds’ native reminder app, only it continues to remind you of all your unfinished to-dos whether you can actually work on them or not.  Consider that the average modern worker has over 150 unfinished tasks at any given time! That’s a lot of nagging mental reminders that leaves very little room for focusing on the task at hand.

However, studies show that you don’t actually have to complete a task to stop thinking about it.  Writing down a plan to complete the task provides the same mental relief. Simply writing down all of your pending to-dos makes you more effective at completing the task at hand.

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How we used the Apple Watch: 
As a team that creates task management software, to-do lists were already essential to our workflow. However, the Apple Watch changed how we interacted with our task lists entirely.  Managing tasks from the iPhone is pretty convenient, but it meant that we were picking up our phones constantly during the day. It’s difficult not to get distracted by other notifications, emails, articles, or the million other things we can easily access on the phone.  We also found that if our phones weren’t right next to us, we often missed important task reminders.

The Apple Watch turned out to fix both of those issues.  We found that if we set our tasks with the day and time we wanted to start working on them (this is usually easier to do on a bigger screen like the phone or desktop apps), our tasks came to us as we needed them. There was no need to constantly check Todoist on our phone. We could easily snooze tasks for later or reschedule tasks entirely depending on how our workdays played out.  The haptic reminders ensured that we would never miss an important tasks. We simply just added them to our to-do lists, and forgot about them until we needed to actually work on them.

Additionally, the quick-add feature allowed us to add tasks as they came to us, almost in real time. By making an immediate plan to deal with a to-do later, we could better focus on whatever we were working on at the moment.

While Todoist is of course our app of choice for keeping track of our to-dos, there are a lot of excellent options out there that fit other workflows. Evernote and Trello are two other top-notch productivity softwares with smart Apple Watch apps that get rave reviews for helping their users stay on top of everything they need to get done.

4) Cut out distractions.

With all of the digital distractions at our fingertips, it’s harder than ever to focus on doing just one thing.  All too often, our default work mode is multitasking which makes us even more susceptible to distraction, creates a mental traffic jam, and ultimately makes us much less productive.

How we used the Apple Watch:
As we said in the infographic, when it comes to distractions, the Apple Watch can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

We found that if we configured our notifications to only let the most important ones through, we actually spent less time checking ours phone and more time getting things done.  The limited capabilities of the watch and the general annoyance of to keeping one’s arm raised for any longer than absolutely necessary, make it difficult to get distracted doing other things.

Of course, there’s no substitute for complete absence of notifications. When you really need to focus, it’s always best to turn on Do Not Disturb.

Here’s a great article from iMore that we found helpful in getting our Apple Watch notifications just right for optimal productivity.

5) Eat healthy.

Similar to exercise, people often only consider the physical benefits of healthy eating (which are extremely important too!). However, eating the right types of food has also been shown to have a huge impact on the quality of our work.  Studies show that a daily diet rich in fruits and veggies boosts our feelings of well-being, curiosity, and creativity. The World Health Organization estimates that adequate nutrition can boost our productivity by as much as 20%.

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How we used the Apple Watch: 
Keeping track of what you eat throughout the day is one of those hard-to-create habits that never seems to stick. This is one of those cases where we found the immediacy of the watch to be extremely helpful.

LifeSum, one of our favorite healthy eating apps for Apple Watch, made it incredibly convenient to keep track of what we had eaten throughout the day by adding it on our wrist. The Glance view also let us see where we were in relation to our goals and periodic haptic reminders gave us tips on how much to eat on what we had already eaten in a given day.  We really did feel that having the information readily available on the watch helped us be more conscious of what we were eating and how much.

The Green Kitchen app served up curated, healthy recipes on our iPhones while the Apple Watch app helped coach us through cooking them with smart timers based on what we were cooking.  While this was one of the apps where the Watch didn’t add that much functionality beyond the iPhone, we did love being able to reference our timers on our wrists and keep our hands free for cooking. We’re hoping to see more functionality like step-by-step instructions on the Watch in the near future.

6) Develop a meditation habit.

In the last couple of years, mindfulness meditation has taken off as a way to manage stress, improve decision-making, unleash creativity and boost productivity.  Corporate executives at General Mills, Target, Google, Apple, Nike, HBO, Procter & Gamble, and Aetna Insurance all use meditation to maximize their brain power.  Studies also show that, in terms of mental and emotional benefits, meditating daily is more important than the total amount of time you spend meditating. As with exercise, consistent practice is the key.

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How we used the Apple Watch:
Practicing mindfulness is another one of those important productivity habits that gets dropped the moment we’re crunched for time. Mindfulness may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think Apple Watch, but we found two well-designed apps, Centered  and Happier, whose periodic taps helped to remind us to take a few minutes out of our hectic schedules to slow down and focus on the present.

Centered gives you a broad range of meditations to choose from depending on how much time you want to take. It gave us the chance to set personalized daily meditation steps and weekly goals that we could track to keep our momentum going.  As an extra bonus, Centered gives time suggestions for meditation based on time slots open in your iCalendar.   On the other hand, Happier focuses on short gratitude meditations to cultivate positive thinking and boost mood throughout the day.

These short meditations fit nicely into our breaks 2-3 times a day and helped to refocus on the task at hand rather than getting caught up in the stress of trying to do everything at once.


Our Conclusions

The Apple Watch certainly isn’t perfect. While the battery was usually enough to last all day, we always had to take the watch off to charge at night. This makes sleep tracking impossible, which can be a highly useful feature on fitness bands. Some apps can be a bit slow, which is particularly annoying when you have to keep your arm raised.

It also takes a significant investment up front to customize your watch apps and notifications to optimize your productivity instead of adding to the distractions of the modern workplace. However, after a month with our Apple Watches, the consensus is that the initial investment in time and unwanted-notification-induced headaches is worth it.

To be clear, the Apple Watch isn’t going to solve all your problems. It wasn’t a magic solution that allowed us to perfectly follow new habits right from the start.  We still missed the occasional workout, worked through a scheduled break or two, and failed to track everything we ate.  Building good habits takes time and patience, no matter what tools you use to help you along.

However, in our experience we think that, when used carefully, the unique features of the Apple Watch can help nudge us to start with small, totally attainable goals like standing up for a at least a minute every hour and slowly build more consistent positive habits from there.  We plan to keep using it to do just that.

Are there any ways you’re using the Apple Watch to stay productive that we didn’t cover here?  Is the Apple Watch helping or hindering your personal productivity? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

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